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Rules and Policies for Study Abroad

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Once you determine that you are eligible to study abroad, you need to be aware of some important rules and procedures. You should read this page carefully before studying abroad and after you return. If you have questions, contact your College Adviser. The Global Learning Office also maintains information about rules, policies, programs, and applications.

Approval for study abroad applies to the general program you have chosen and does not constitute advance approval of any individual course. When you have completed your studies, an official transcript should be sent to the Global Learning Office.

Undergraduate Registration Requirement 

All Northwestern students are subject to the Undergraduate Registration Requirement (URR) and are responsible for ensuring that they meet this requirement. Most study abroad programs do not count toward the URR. The exception to this is work done on those Northwestern-run programs which offer courses with Northwestern numbers and the -SA designation. If you have questions, contact your College Adviser and your degree auditor in the Office of the Registrar.

Course credit

If you attend a Northwestern-run program and take Northwestern courses with the -SA designation, the grades will appear on your transcript and be included in your GPA.

Petitioning for major, minor, and Weinberg degree requirement credit

Non-Northwestern courses from study abroad that are eligible for transfer (i.e. may applied to the Northwestern degree) are counted as electives unless otherwise authorized. During the process of applying to study abroad, students should consult their department/program advisers to determine the feasibility of using courses taken abroad to satisfy NU major or minor requirements, and their College Adviser about other Weinberg College requirements. The petition to apply course credit to specific requirements can go forward only after the study abroad program has been completed, the student has completed a study abroad program evaluation, and an official abroad transcript has been posted by the Registrar’s Office. Students are advised to complete the Petition for Credit from Study Abroad as soon as possible after those steps are complete (see Transferring Credit From Abroad).

Retain all class descriptions, syllabi, papers, readings, and other course materials from your classes abroad; they may be needed as part of the petition process.

Major/minor credit

Each major/minor department or program is responsible for decisions about how study abroad credits may be applied toward its requirements. Students should have a primary major declared prior to applying to study abroad. Contact your College Adviser if this is not possible.

Language requirement credit

Students may use coursework in a language taken abroad to help complete the language proficiency requirement, but you should be aware that, as with any student taking language courses away from NU, you may need to take a placement exam upon return. Contact the department for more information.

Updated degree requirements for 2023 and later

Students who start classes at Northwestern after spring quarter 2023 follow a set of degree requirements different from those followed by students who started earlier. Eligibility of study abroad credits towards new requirement categories will be evaluated based on the definition and learning objectives for the requirement, and similarity to courses on the College’s lists of approved courses.

Under the updated degree requirements, a student who studies abroad for one term and transfers back credits may, upon review and approval, apply a maximum of one course unit to:

A student who studies abroad for more than one term and transfers back credits may, upon review and approval, apply a maximum of two course units in one of the following ways:

NOTE! Each foundational discipline area is completed with two courses and there are rules that affect what courses can be paired, so take Rules and Policies for Foundational Disciplines into account if you are considering applying a study abroad course towards a foundational discipline area.

Distribution requirement credit (pre-2023 degree requirements)

To be eligible for distribution credit, courses must be substantially similar to courses on the College’s approved list and conform to the defining language of the distribution areas.  Students can receive a maximum of one unit of distribution credit for each study abroad term, up to a maximum of two units. The two units must be in different distribution requirement areas.

Note for students on NU programs

If you study abroad on a Northwestern-run program that offers regular (direct credit) NU classes, you do NOT need to go through this credit transfer process for those NU classes. These courses are subject to the same rules and restrictions as courses taught in Evanston. If a Northwestern course with an -SA suffix is eligible to be applied to a distribution, foundational discipline, or perspectives on power, justice and equity requirement it will automatically be reflected as such on the CAESAR degree progress report. If the course has not been approved, it will not count as towards a requirement category, though students following the pre-2023 degree requirements may apply to use such a course as part of a 2-for-1 distribution requirement substitution. Contact your College Adviser with questions. Courses taken on these programs can be applied toward some major/minor requirements. You should discuss this with your major/minor adviser. If courses do not automatically count, the department or program adviser may approve their counting during the petition to graduate process or through an earlier email notification to the Registrar's Office.

Registering for courses while abroad

If you study abroad, you will likely be away during registration for the quarter in which you’ll return. If you have been approved for study abroad through NU, you will still be registered as a Northwestern student while abroad, and you should be able to register normally through CAESAR (though be wary of time differences when you get your registration time!). If a course you wish to register for requires a permission number, contact the department/program office by email. If you have trouble registering while abroad, contact the Global Learning Office.

If you study abroad without Northwestern’s approval, you are considered to be on a leave of absence. You must complete an Application for Re-Entry. The application should be received by the Registrar’s Office six weeks prior to registration.

Internships abroad 

Some study abroad programs offer students the chance to pursue an internship for credit; some students take part in extracurricular internships. The Study Abroad Office has information about options, policies, and requirements for internships done abroad. With the exception of credit earned through the Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI), for which substantial coursework takes place on the Evanston campus, such credits do not count toward the Weinberg College limit on internship-linked credit.

Research abroad 

A number of Northwestern's affiliated study abroad programs provide the opportunity to do an independent study or research project while abroad. Participating students conduct original research, often using a combination of fieldwork methods, such as interviews and archival research. This research abroad can be a good foundation for a senior thesis or post-graduate research; it also strengthens applications for post-graduate grants, such as Fulbright, Rhodes and Marshall scholarships. Consult the study abroad website for detailed information about preparing for research abroad.

Honors and scholarships

If you are interested in writing a senior thesis in your major upon returning from study abroad, you should be sure to discuss this with your major and College Advisers prior to departing, especially if you plan to be gone for the entire junior year. You should also reach out to major advisers and directors of undergraduate studies via email while you’re away so that you’re prepared to apply—even from abroad. The same is true if you want to apply for certain fellowships or scholarships whose deadlines are early in fall quarter. Stay in touch with the Office of Fellowships while away.

Graduation issues 

Studying abroad may impact a student’s ability to graduate early and the number of courses required to be taken at NU. Contact your College Adviser for more information. If you are abroad during spring of your junior year, be sure to complete and submit your graduation petition soon after your return to campus. If you study abroad during the last quarter of your senior year, your study abroad transcript may not arrive at NU in time for you to graduate that quarter. Consult your College Adviser.

International students

Effective summer 2016, international students studying in their home country on a non-Northwestern program during the summer or the academic year may be exempt from applying for permission to study abroad through the Global Learning Office. Refer to the Global Learning Office website for information about the "home country exemption" for international students and to the Registrar's Office website for information about transfer credit processes. 

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